Life is unpredictable. Health, work, family, and financial situations can change drastically at any given moment. As a result, you may find yourself having to find a new home for your bird.
Finding a quality home for your bird may be tougher than you'd think. If you know a life-change is imminent and have some time to look, start your search as soon as possible. Waiting until the last minute will only add more stress to an already stressful situation and may cause you to make hasty decisions you'll regret later.
(These tips could also be used as a guide for anyone wanting to know how to prep your home for a bird, what rescues look for in a home, or for anyone interested in starting an avian rescue.)
Beginning your Search
If a local avian rescue isn't an option, or if you're a new rescue, look to friends, family, social media, co-workers, animal shelters, and sometimes even vet clinics can offer feedback regarding possible placement.
Setting up a Home Visit
If you want your bird to have the best placement possible, a home visit is necessary to review safety measures are in place, and to make sure you're not turning over your bird to someone your shouldn't. There are scammers out there who won't have your bird's best interest at heart. They look for free birds to flip for cash or to place in a unpleasant breeding situation.
If distance is a factor, a video call may be an option prior to taking a lengthy trek.
I've done many home visits without issue, but for extra security, I would recommend that you bring a buddy along. They can also act as emotional support during a tough situation.
If you don't have a buddy, let someone know the address to the location you're going to, and check in with them once the visit is complete. (Treat it like you are going on a blind date.)
Is the home clean?
A home doesn't need to be immaculate, but if you see garbage scattered about, prominent vermin infestation, dirty clothes and dishes everywhere, or general hoarding, wish them well and look somewhere else.
That being said, someone with a clean home won't necessarily be willing to clean a bird cage regularly without some education on its importance.
Does the home smell like cigarette smoke?
If Second-hand Smoke can mess with a human's respiratory systems, of course it's going to mess with a bird's. Even if a person smokes outside, there are studies suggesting that the residue on their hands can transfer to the bird and cause a variety of health issues.
Vaping around birds is also a no-no based on similar principles.
Does the home smell of strong perfumes or other scents?
Birds have highly efficient and subsequently sensitive respiratory system. Febreeze, Glade Plug-ins, heavy perfumes, incense, candles, essential oils*, paint, non-natural cleaning products, pesticides**, and anything along these lines need to be avoided.
If a family's home has a strong smell of any kind, ask that they switch to less intense, natural cleaners and scents.
*Essential oils are natural, but seldom do birds come into such high concentration of those scents in the wild, so I would recommend caution whenever using them.
**Even if "Pet-safe" pesticides are used, based on how most industries regard birds, it's probably not safety-tested for them. Due to their sensitivities, birds are a considered a whole other ball game when it comes to safety standards, which I hope will be addressed more by companies in the future as the public becomes more informed and speaks up.
Are there any live plants accessible to birds?
If so, check to see if they are bird-safe and if they're not, see if they can be made inaccessible.
Is there non-stick cookware in the house?
The well-studied dangers of PTEF & PFOA products (sometimes called Teflon) is not common knowledge to the general and even bird-loving public. The problem lies when these types of product are heated.
"Non-stick cookware, when heated either under a broiler or on a stovetop at medium-high heat, can, within six minutes, get to temperatures that will release toxic particles and gasses."
Even if the bird is in a different room, they can still feel the effects of the toxins.
The stuff is hidden in all sorts of everyday items. It can be found in pots & pans, cookie & muffin trays, George Forman Grills, waffle irons, electric skillets, certain crockpots, rice-cookers, heavy-duty aluminum foil, irons, ironing boards, glue guns, space heaters, some heat lamps... It's pretty crazy. If it's heated, check the manufacturers website to see if it contains PTFE and/or PFOA.
If the family has any of these products in the house, ask them to convert to an alternative product that doesn't. There are a large variety of them, some are legit, some are not. Companies are sneaky. You have to make sure they're both PTFE and PFOA free.
For cookware you can use untreated stainless steal, cast iron, or a Greenpan.
Also of concern, the self-cleaning cycle of an oven can also kill birds. Even if the birds are in another room with a towel to prevent the toxic draft, it will still kill them, as a Birdhist unfortunately relayed to me.
Story time! When a friend wanted to run the self-cleaning cycle on their stove, we picked a cool day, opened the windows, turned on the vent fans, and evacuated their birds to my place for 3 days. There was no noticeable issue with the birds after we did this, but I don't have a scientific study to 100% back this protocol as acceptable or not.
Caution is also required with brand new ovens. I never had a new oven before, so I can't speak from personal experience, but from what I've read on forums, the self-cleaning cycle needs to be run to burn off the bad stuff, this includes the broiler, possibly more than once.
Yes, keeping birds safe is a struggle.
Are there other predatory animals in the house?
Be cautious of homes with dogs, cats, ferrets, and other similar carnivorous companions. See if the owner is comfortable with maintaining their distance during out-of-the-cage time or when no one's home.
Some owners will say, "My cat would never hurt a bird." or "My dog is so chill." it takes a split second for instincts to kick in and tragedy to happen.
If a mammal does something as innocent as "kiss" (lick) a bird, the bacteria from the saliva can be ingested during preening, and cause problems.
Humans are mammals and I know lots of humans and birds who love kissies. If you're going to do kissies, you can do air kisses close to them, but try your best to avoid actual contact.
Express caution and mindfulness when it comes to mirrors, fans, toilets, hot stoves, open doors, full sinks and buckets, hidey holes, laundry baskets, rolling chairs, dryers, before you sit down on a chair, and any other accidents waiting to happen.
I shuffle my feet when I walk around at home just incase a bird managed to get out and on the floor.
They need to know if a bird is out, eyes must be on them at all times. Having to unexpectedly play Hide-and-Seek with a bird is never fun, especially when they're super tiny.
How much time does the family have to devote to the bird?
Some birds are needy. Some birds are independent or prefer bonding only with other birds.
A person who is away from home for long periods of time may not work well with a needy/clingy bird. This match could result in the bird developing behavioral problems like plucking or excessive screaming. This person may do better with an independent bird, a pair of birds, or a small flock.
The majority of companion birds are social creatures, so they will keep each other company in their new owner's absence.
A person who is away for long periods of time may want a needy/clingy bird. Unless they can bring them along their travels without the bird becoming stressed, this would not be the best placement for your bird.
An independent bird might not appeal to someone who is home most of the time and wants a bird that hangs out and snuggles.
You know your bird better than anyone, so use your best judgement.
How is their cage/aviary set up?
Transferring your bird with their original cage can bring a sense of comfort during the transition, but if the cage is getting old, too small, or starting to rust, it's time for an upgrade.
For an able-bodied bird, the bigger the better. For a special needs bird, I have some guidance for them here.
Make sure the cage is large enough for your bird to stretch and flap their wings comfortably, bar spacing should be wide enough for them to fit their beak through, not their whole head.
Birds should have access to a variety of perches. Branch-like perches are best since they have varying pressure points which are good for their feetsies. Dowel perches do not have this. Trash them. Trash them and sandpaper perch covers. Those things are awful for birds' feet. If their toe nails get long, they need to be groomed by a professional.
Just because something is marketed for a bird to be safe or healthy, does not always make it so.
If they want to use branches from a tree outside, make sure they know to check whether or not if the wood is bird-safe. You'd figure since a mango fruit is safe for birds that the branches from the tree would also be safe. They are not, because nature is silly.
Make sure they are willing to provide a variety of bird toys on a regular basis to give them some entertainment and mental stimulation. Bird toys don't have to be expensive to be fun. To save money, encourage them to look up DIY Safe bird toy ideas. (I like to collect ideas on Pinterest.)
A brief summary of safe bird toys would consist of play things which are non-toxic and ones they can't get themselves tangled in. Fuzzy happy huts require supervision as some birds like to ingest the fibers, which cause impacted crop.
Every once in awhile, you get a bird like Pako who had zero interest in toys. He was entertained by spending time with the family, and we were happy to oblige, but generally speaking, bird toys are a good idea.
It's not a good idea to place the cage directly up against a window due to temperature fluctuations, be they cold draft and/or excessive heat. Putting them too close to a kitchen isn't a good idea either. Too many fumes and general dangers.
Some birds who are more sensitive to stress would need to be placed in a calmer area of the house.
If you have a social bird, a spot in the living room should be ok, but suggest having a sleep cage in a quiet part of the house for night time. Birds require 10-12 hours of undisturbed sleep to be at their best.
If the bird is to be placed outside, make sure they're placed in a predator-proof enclosure. A screened-patio or a standard cage placed outside will not keep a bird safe from an animal looking for an easy meal or a play thing.
Raccoons, bears, and feral cats can harm birds through cages bars and aviary wire if it's too weak, spacing too wide, or if the bird likes to sleep holding the sides of their enclosure.
Wire that's heavy gauge, made up of non-galvanized steel, with .25" bar spacing is optimum... Just a heads up, that stuff's expensive.
If the floor is not made of something substantial like concrete, add wire to the floor to prevent predators from digging under and into the aviary.
If pressure-treated wood is going to be used, it has to be made inaccessible to the birds because they are very likely to chew it and get poisoned.
Make sure they have shelter from outside elements.
Health Exams & Quarantine
"There's no such thing as a free pet."
If your bird has never had a Health Exam, the ethical thing to do is to get them checked prior to bringing them into a new home. If you can't because times are hard, ask the new family to do so, the perfect home would be willing. If you're charging some kinda of fee, this should be waved if your bird does not have health history on file, or use it to get that health exam done.
A standard Health Exam should include bloodwork, fecal smear, and testing for PBFD (Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease which is highly contagious to other birds through dander - this is seen often in lovebirds), and Psittacosis aka Parrot Fever, which is a zoonotic disease. This means it can be spread from bird to human, and that could cause problems. PDD is another good option, but I've been told the testing for this virus can sometimes be hit or miss.
As for Quarantine, birds hide illnesses, and the stress from the move may cause underlying issues to appear and even spread. When a new bird is brought into a living situation with other birds, best practice is to keep them quarantined for 30 days. This would be the time to examine weight, poops, eating habits, feather condition, energy level, and anything that may seem a little off.
Is the new family willing to put aside money or at least hustle for it in the event their bird gets hurt or sick? Are they willing to take them for a yearly wellness exam?
The sad reality is, a lot of people won't... especially regarding the little guys. I really hope the idea of "starter birds" and the "I spent $20 on a budgie, why am I going to pay $2000 for an emergency vet?" mentality changes through continued education and compassion.
I just went through a situation where I had a birdy emergency and an emergency fund, but a LARGE chunk was exhausted due to car troubles and moving to a new state. It was thanks to the amazing Birdhist Community and Gofundme that I was able to afford the emergency care needed for JJ the Lovebird. I will forever be grateful.
There's a lot to be said about bird nutrition, especially if you get into specific species of birds. For example, African Greys and chronic egg-layers have problems with Calcium.
The $5 big bag of Walmart parrot seed is like a bucket of fried chicken to birds. It has some nutritional value, but I wouldn't call it healthy. I used to give that to my birds back when I didn't know any better.
A nutritionally balanced diet for *most* species of companion parrots consist of 70% pellet and 30% fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts. For many species, seed should only given mostly as a treat. "But birds love seed." I've taken numerous birds in with Fatty Liver Disease. It's bound to happen due to sedentary lifestyle in captivity, but it's made much worse and happens much sooner because of a seed-only diets.
Lorikeets and Eclectus parrots have their own unique diets, but again, the there's plenty of info online about specific parrot diets, and this post is going to be long enough as it is. Doing your own research into your bird's needs is always a good idea.
If there are other birds in the house, how are they doing?
Check the eyes (clear and bright), the nares (pink or tan, no swelling), the chest (should not see an extreme point from the keel nor should it have “cleavage”), the feet (should not be swollen, if the bird climbs on the cage, check for sores or pressure points), the feathers (should be in good condition, excessive broken or discolored tail feathers often indicate inadequate cage size).
If they look off, inquire kindly, and don't immediately place judgement. Even with the best care, many birds can still have issues.
To clip or not to clip? A very divisive subject in the bird world. My personal opinion, based on experience with all sorts of birds and family situations:
I prefer they go unclipped and their environment be made suitable for flutter time. However, you get birds like Miss Cockatiel who is awful at flying and will crash into everything and hurt herself. So clipping is necessary.
If a bird is in the living room, near an exit, wing clipping could prevent escape if they are out of their cage and someone walks in. You could add a magnetic screen door in front of exits to prevent surprise escapes if possible or hang a large sign on the door to let visitors know to wait outside until your bird is put back in their cage.
"Clipping wings helps with taming" yes, but so does positive reenforcement training, and you don't have to alter your bird.
Clipping your birds wings in a home shared with a cat/dog: If their paths accidentally cross, you bird will not be able to escape to safety.
If a situation calls for wing-clipping, be sure the person doing it knows how to clip wings properly. Never trim their tail feathers. Professional bird groomers can be found at vet clinics or bird stores.
For nail trimming, birds nails usually wear down on their own unless they have a health issue. Just as with wing-clipping, if you're not 100% sure what you're doing, take them to a professional.
Do they live alone?
Living alone and having a birdy roommate to spoil can seem like a great match. Although, you need to ask yourself and the new potential family member, "If something were to happen to you, what will become of the bird?"
Some ways to ensure that they're cared for in the event of something catastrophic would be:
- An emergency card in their wallet with contacts and info regarding their bird at home and their care.
- Having a buddy system. Give your house key to a trusted friend and give a little hello every 1-2 days.
It may seem a little overboard, but you'd be surprise how often landlords call needing to find homes for birds due to their tenant passing or becoming impaired.
Are there children in the house? Are they well-behaved? Will they be interacting with the bird?
Every parent has their own parenting style. The result of certain styles don't mesh well with high-maintenance and sometimes fragile animals like birds.
If the home feels chaotic, with kids bouncing off the walls and the parents showing no motivation to reel them in, they are probably not suited for the bird life.
Even if the kids are awesome, make sure the parents know they are the ones responsible for the bird's care. They need to make sure the bird is given fresh food and water every day. They need to make sure the bird is cleaned on a regular basis. They are responsible for expenses such as vet pills, toys, and healthy diet.
Depending on your relationship with the new family, it wouldn't hurt check in with them to see if they need any help.
Oh, and when they ask, "Do they bite?" No such thing as a bird that doesn't bite, some do more than others and with more or less force.
When transporting wild life, they said to keep the critters quiet, dark, and warm. This seems to be a good tactic for companion birds, too. Normally, I'd say the bigger the better when it comes to enclosure, but the more room in the transport, the more of an opportunity for them to launch themselves all over the place, and getting injured.
I put a regular towel on the bottom of the carrier to prevent slipping and sliding, put a paper towel on the top of the towel to prevent nails from becoming caught up in the towel's fibers.
Some families will happily send pictures and welcome visitations. Some birds may not take well to on and off visitations from someone that they were extremely bonded to. Use your best judgement as to what's best for the bird.
If you're able to, it's courteous to throw a little funds their way on occasion.
“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Perhaps print out a Bird Care Sheet for good measure.
(There's some more situations I may have forgotten or in need of modification, feel free to give your thoughts in the comments below.)